Posted on 7/26/2021 in Digital Marketing

By Tim Hawkins

These days, web designers have a lot of new technology they can build into websites. There are endless widgets, buttons, pop-ups, and graphics to choose from. It seems like every website is trying to grab people’s attention with exciting new visual presentations. 

Some of the more interesting trends I’ve come across are:

  • Morphing, or transforming an image from one thing into something else, such a butterfly into a plane, or one person’s face into another’s.
  • 3D colors, which means using gradients, shading, and the like to make colors more vibrant, alive, and deep. This takes advantage of the high-definition displays on today’s devices.
  • Parallax scrolling, where the background moves more slowly than the foreground, creating a 3D viewing effect.

With so many tools in the designer’s toolbox, it can be tempting to use them all—especially if a client wants their website to look exciting and trendy. But, there’s a problem: your message and branding can get lost in the shuffle. It’s all too easy to lose sight of the purpose of your website if you get distracted by appearances or new technology. Web design technology has changed, but the core principles of design have not. Just as in the past, there are key aspects of design that you should follow if you want to communicate and engage your visitor.

So, how do you avoid obscuring your website with too much technology and graphical tricks? Follow these “back-to-basics” tips and you’ll be able to strengthen any website concept.

Communicate and serve the customer

It’s amazing what you can design on websites, but it’s important to keep one question in mind: how does that apply to my client? Sometimes, you have to reel yourself in from cutting-edge approaches. Remember, the main goal of the website is to communicate with your target customers. Yes, you want to engage them, but that is best done with good, well-presented content, not with graphical tricks alone.

Actually, one of the best tools a web designer has for meeting user needs isn’t graphical at all. It’s data. These days, you can gather detailed data on your website traffic: where they go, how long they stay, and what they do. This is invaluable information you can use to improve the user experience—and the results you get from your website.

Know your market and design for that world

This principle should be at the core of any design project, online or otherwise: Know your market and what’s appropriate within that world. Business-to-consumer websites often have more freedom to experiment. If you sell surfboards, for example, you probably do want your site to be the coolest place on the web. On the other hand, if you’re a B2B company, or a bank, or a medical institution, there are some approaches you just wouldn’t take.

I don’t mean to say that you shouldn’t use morphing or 3D colors on a B2B site. But the more serious your market, the more seriously you need to use such techniques. Your website should give the appearance and experience that customers expect. I’ve found that in many cases, once a client sees a more edgy design for their website, they decide they would rather pull back a little bit. Remember, your website is not competing with the whole world, just with the competitors in your market segments. “Cool” is relative!

Provide a balance of content: words, pictures, videos, graphics

When you visit a website, you don’t want to read a wall of text. You also don’t want to sift through a layer of buttons and videos before you find any information. That’s why balance is so important. While your first instinct might be big, flashy, attention-grabbing graphics, it’s really about striking the balance between text, pictures, and graphics that will keep your customers engaged.

And remember, it’s okay to air things out. Users will still see a message if it’s down at the bottom of the page. You don’t need to cram all of the information right at the top—people are used to scrolling down through websites.

Organize and make it easy to navigate

Walk through your site in the customer’s shoes. How quickly can you find everything? If the website’s layout is confusing, visitors will quickly lose patience. They won’t stay long if they can’t find their way around.

There’s another consideration, too. The website’s organization is part of the message you’re sending to the world. What do you make most prominent, and what do you “hide” in the drop-down menus? You want to make sure that your site structure and navigation don’t bury any important parts of your story, and that your key messages come through.

Stay true to your brand

Staying true to your brand is always more important than being unique or trendy. Your brand is a long-term investment. Trends are, well, trends. Your brand should guide your decisions about graphics, style, and how you present yourself to the world via your website. If you don’t have a clearly defined brand that you can easily articulate, then a website project should be the catalyst for developing one. In fact, it’s a necessary step before design work can even begin. I need to know who you are before I can design how you look.

With all the technology and graphic innovations out there, it’s tempting to try them on your own website. And new capabilities are always worth considering. But remember that at the core, a web design project is all about the person you’re trying to engage. So, while you’re looking at all the cool technology available, always ask one question: will this improve the experience for the end user?

In my next blog, I’ll talk about some of the ways to design deep content and long copy that’s enticing, not intimidating.

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